Less Regulation for the Pharmaceutical Industry

I have always been perplexed by the contention that we need less government regulation and more lenient regulatory enforcement in this country, including in the pharmaceutical industry.   Proponents of less government regulation often make their case by proposing to “get government out of private sector business and let the market decide.”  They point to the unnecessary costs, business hardships, and ineffectiveness of government regulation.

We hear about “too much government” until something happens.  Something bad enough to negatively affect a large number of people.  A financial system meltdown, security breach that compromises their safety, or when people take advantage of them through deceptive marketing practices or fraud.  You really hear about the need for more government when people die unnecessarily due to a faulty or poorly manufactured product or a blatant disregard for health and human safety.  Then you hear “where is the government?” “isn’t there a law against that?” and “I’m going to sue.”

For years I have wondered how compounding pharmacies that scale to the size of drug manufacturers could operated without FDA oversight of their manufacturing processes.  Just leave it to State Boards of Pharmacy to monitor.  How “nutritional supplements” could make the health claims pharmaceutical companies could not make without rigorous clinical trials and FDA approval.  Do they really do what is claimed and do no harm?  How device companies could merely claim their product was “substantially equivalent” to an already marketed product to get on the market.  Does it really matter that pharmacies can sell drugs over the internet?  Why should I need a prescription?  Does it matter that the pharmacy operates out of another country or that the drugs I get are counterfeit?  Should it really be ok to create billion dollar blockbuster prescription drugs by marketing them for unapproved claims for patients who might be putting their lives at risk for no benefit?  Less government regulation and limited enforcement make these all possible, today.

The pharmaceutical industry and healthcare market have proven that business enterprises and individuals will push the limits of the law and even ignore the law to make a buck.  That doesn’t mean we should just get rid of government regulation.  In fact, less government regulation and diminished enforcement merely create even more opportunities without negative consequences for fraud, for dangerously marginalizing manufacturing quality, and for the unscrupulous to take advantage of consumers, regardless of how informed or well educated the consumer might be.   Less government regulation and limited enforcement in a “buyers beware” market is not an acceptable commercial environment, especially for the pharmaceutical industry where patient health, safety, or lives are at stake.

So what’s my conclusion?  We need government agencies to do a better job of enforcing the laws that are already in place. We need them to work with law makers to eliminate laws that are no longer doing what they were intended to do when they were adopted.  We need law makers to do a better job of drafting legislation (have you ever read a page of Final Rules in the Federal Register?) to protect consumers.  But what we need most is for businesses and individuals to quit “gaming the system” with wealth building strategies based on taking advantage of lax regulatory enforcement and the unaware or mislead consumer.  mike@pharmareform.com